Friday, 21 March 2008

Who Will Speak for the Dreamer?

WHO WILL SPEAK FOR THE DREAMER? Amy Brooke, Medlar Press, 2005, 164 pages, paperback, NZ$24.99, ISBN 0-9852198-9-3
[Medlar Press, PO Box 139, Nelson]

Amy Brooke, like her alter ego Agnes Mary Brooke, continues to write fantasy for young people, novels ostensibly set in New Zealand but rooted in British and European mythology and traditions. Rohan (12), staying with his grandmother Maven in Central Otago, visits an old orchard (perhaps the same as the one in Night of the Medlar) where he sees grim faces in the trunk of an ancient blackwood tree. Rohan gradually discovers that a family, relatives of his, destroyed by a curse and a house fire a century earlier, have taken refuge in an alternate universe. There, they are waiting for Rohan to take his real name of Rowan (the tree with ‘the special, magical guarding properties’) and break the circle of evil, so they can be reunited

The family members appear briefly in the form of animals such as a badger, possum, rabbit, cat and wolves. Dreams, visions and paintings all have to be interpreted by Rohan as he struggles to understand.
The story is packed with symbols, including a wise fox, wild swans, good and bad trees, stars, leaves, a woodsman and a locket, so that the plot becomes overwhelmed. When Orion descends from the stars to despatch a wild bull, the reader can only cry out with the narrator, “What was he doing here?”

Another difficulty is that Rohan, the 12 year old narrator, who writes like a pedantic 72 year old anyway, is often recounting the stories told to him by his great-grandmother Amber (82) who had heard them from her mother Holly.

The text is dense and tedious, with many sections having to be re-read to extract their meaning. Even allowing for its misrelated participle, the opening sentence of the novel is typical in the way that it confuses the reader: “After it rose, banking steeply, a face looked down with a hand waving from the front passenger seat.” Only for dedicated followers of the Brooke saga.

This review by Trevor Agnew was first published in a briefer form in The Press, Christchurch on 28th January 2006.

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